Vocational education and training in Germany enjoys particular media attention every time the beginning of the training year arrives on 1 August. So far, so good. However, this year initial and continuing training received especially negative treatment on one of Germany’s flagship television news programmes. It was stated that the main benefit of vocational education and training was to offer people a second chance and that modernity and innovation were absent. The emphasis was instead placed on the international compatibility offered by institutes of higher education, something which VET was far away from achieving. All of this led the commentator in question to conclude that the much-praised German training system had had its day.
Casting the image of vocational education and training in the right light
This TV news report drastically forced us to confront a piece of social reality. Whether we agree or not, vocational education and training has a poor image in Germany. However, this is not a reason to resort to furious contradiction. Instead of this, viable approaches are needed which will restore the correct image. Endeavours hitherto undertaken in this regard are obviously not achieving the desired effect.
The TV commentator also makes it clear that vocational education and training in Germany is primarily perceived as a matter for companies. Vocational schools and the potential they offer for fostering careers in the knowledge economy and in society are being left out in the cold. The fatal thing here is that impetuses urgently required for the further development of the dual system also remain concealed. It is, therefore, high time to liberate vocational schools in Germany from their shadowy existence and to make them a stronger focus than before for the debate surrounding the further development of vocational education and training.
Making vocational school engines of progress for the dual system
Expectations of effective educational systems are high. Standards which are internationally comparable and competences which can stand the test of the digital age are in demand. Abstract knowledge based on the processing of knowledge and information is also gaining in significance. This is precisely why institutes of higher education are currently in the ascendancy. Because of their proximity to trade and industry, vocational schools could play an effective role in this regard and make a major contribution to restoring the competitiveness of the dual system vis-à-vis institutes of higher education. In their capacity as a dual partner, they have the advantage of being able to offer provision to complement company-based training out into the regions. This is an area in which institutes of higher education still have a long way to go. Moreover, vocational schools may become engines of progress in the dual system when it comes to facilitating greater differentiation in vocational education and training, increasing provision of high-quality training programmes and advanced training courses above level 5 of the German Qualifications Framework and strengthening the VET system’s capacity for inclusion by expanding the spectrum of modern methods and media.
All responsible stakeholders in vocational education and training would therefore do well to support vocational schools in tapping into areas of potential for innovations in VET and to ensure that they also receive broad recognition as a brand within the dual system. The focus needs to be on more positive associations and better visibility of dual vocational education and training via the vehicle of modern vocational schools. This is also an important prerequisite for enhancing the image of company-based training in the digital age and lending it a high degree of attractiveness for young people and parents, as well as for the companies.
FRIEDRICH HUBERT ESSER
Prof. Dr., President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB)
Translation from the German original (published in BWP 5/2016): Martin Stuart Kelsey, Global Sprach Team, Berlin